60 Years of Fa’afafine History: A Timeline of Herstory Makers & Events surrounding Them in American Samoa

The Stonewall Uprising that took place on June 28th, 1969, in New York City changed the lives and history for the LGBTQI+ community forever, the month of June is now nationally celebrated as Pride month in the United States. Pride month has become a yearly occasion to remember the movers and shakers of the LGBTQI+ movement, but also a time to celebrate being proud of who you are. Today, the celebration of Pride has rolled into mainstream media and celebration. Advertisements are everywhere, you can walk into a public place and there should easily be an entire section dedicated to Pride, even at home on major streaming services, the same trend follows. The advocacy and activism of those who fought for our individual representation and equality has come into deep fruition. To be able to live in and witness such times is humbling for a transgender woman like myself, but it also has me reflecting on my cultural identity as a fa’afafine and our own movement in history.  
The arrival of the missionaries in Samoa (both American Samoa and Independent Samoa) completely suppressed and tried to erase (unsuccessfully) the existence of fa’afafine, which has made our specific history difficult to trace, much like all the other aspects of our culture that was deemed unimportant and barbaric by those very colonizers. There are very few writings and illustrations about fa’afafine prior to the 1970’s that exist today. In American Samoa, the fa’afafine movement only dates back to about forty-plus years. With the time frame being recent, trying to piece together a timeline has proven to be even more difficult than I imagined. American Samoa has no public archive available online and with a severe lack of funding and expertise, tracking any record has been nearly impossible.  

For this project, I have had to rely solely on interviews and information provided from members of the fa’afafine community, both local and living on the U.S. mainland, to construct a timeline. I purposefully chose not to research anything pre-colonial and focused primarily on events and history makers in the last fifty-plus years. When I was teenager, I came across a book titled “Puputoa” by Fofo Sunia. it compiled one hundred years of history makers in American Samoa, but not one person profiled in the book was said to be fa’afafine. That realization gutted me, especially at a time when I was coming of age and wanted to learn about our fa’afafine history.  
For the past thirty or so years, the representation of fa’afafine in writings and documentaries through the colonial, foreign, and tagata papa’e ‘aka’ palagi (white) lens has observed and exploited fa’afafine. Almost fetishizing and exoticizing our existence in modern day society. Their false ideologies of “boys raised as girls” became increasingly central to how the outside world has come to view the fa’afafine identity. One such problematic palagi anthropologist is Jeanette Mageo, whose writings and interviews were widely used as an educational introduction to fa’afafine in universities and their studies. The fa’afafine community has spent years denouncing such sexualized and primitive views as highly misleading and downright incorrect.  

I remember when I lived in Washington state, a palagi couple walked up to me while I was shopping and said, “hey we saw your kind on National Geographic” and without giving them any attention, I walked away. I knew exactly what they had watched. Some years ago, in Samoa I was approached by tagata papa’e filmmakers and was asked if they could film me making the ‘umu (traditional Samoan ‘oven’), they would have obviously used that image to tell the world that all fa’afafine prepared the ‘umu. These sorts of tropes have been the focus of representation of fa’afafine by outside observation. Never has the prioritization been about our historical events, influence and accomplishments. In an era where marginalized people and their accomplishments are being celebrated (and exploited) worldwide, it is long overdue that we fa’afafine reclaim and tell our true narrative.  

Pioneer Fa’afafine Dr. Vena Sele (right photo with Michelle Eneliko). “My education counters any criticism” she once said “to be a Fa’afafine you must be educated.”  
Some of American Samoa’s inspiring Fa’afafine educators from L-R, Teiutaifeau Brown, Paulo Salave’a, Ericah Thompson, Petaia ‘Tanja’ Nu’utai, Kaydolynn Fuimaono and Dakota Sofa. 

The evolution of the fa’afafine movement in American Samoa began in the 1970’s, sadly a large majority of those who were a part of that group are no longer with us. The oldest surviving fa’afafine pioneer is Dr. Vena Sele. Unfortunately, Dr. Sele suffered a stroke several years ago and can no longer communicate coherently. In American Samoa, there is a gathering place for fa’afafine in all of the major villages. The experiences of those who I have been able to interview mirror one another, a mama queen is usually who everyone gravitates to, this person and place where many of us learn and experience life as a fa’afafine for the first time.  

Governor A.P Lutali addressing the audience at 1987 Miss Island Queen Pageant. On his side is Dr. Vena Sele, Shevon Matai and Cindy of Samoa. 

Some of my very first fa’afafine friends were sex workers in Pago Pago village, a “Chinatown” of sorts where many Chinese and Korean fishermen frequented. That is how the girls made their living, pandering to these men. While most would look upon my friends as struggling and hustling, I found it fascinating how these fa’afafine learned to survive without legitimate employment. I was never bothered when asked to entertain them or make food runs for them. At our gathering place, I felt like I was in heaven. Now, in retrospect, those experiences and memories shaped me. It has continued to inspire me as I embrace, absorb, and record our stories. If we do not tell our own stories, no one else will.  

Some of the earliest recollections I have uncovered during my interviews were the stories of Leilani, Ida (Kifi), Evile, and Taranaki (Donna) who were known for their ukulele songs and singing. In the 1960’s, they were invited to sing on the local radio station and performed a song they wrote highly favoring their home in Apia over Pago. It greatly displeased some of the locals who were listening, and they demanded that the women be deported. In later years, Leilani became a beloved figure in the community and was affectionately known as “Mama” and true to her element, she kept singing her ukulele songs up until her passing in 2003. 

In the 1980’s and 1990’s you never got the full essence of town life in Fagatogo village if you did not meet Mama Leilani. Either delighting in her olden days stories, watching her puff her cigarette while pressing on her sewing machine with that famous line “ia ua ia ua si o’u kama” even as a thread in your dress is about to bust itself open and those feel good ukulele songs only she can tune. She was a colorful and unforgettable icon of the Fa’afafine community for years. Our beloved Sweet Mama Leilani. 

A similar situation happened in the 1970’s, when a fa’afafine was accused of robbing a visiting palagi. Based on a witness claim and no proper investigation, the chief immigration officer at the time had deported all fa’afafine from Apia. A total of twenty-six fa’afafine were deported in an obvious case of profiling and severe abuse of power. An early opposition against movies containing LGBTQ subject matter occurred in 1973 at the Halecks West Theater in Pava’ia’i during a showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” where the locals began stoning the building; the showing lasted one night. “The elders didn’t want that type of influence on the youth”, recalls witness Tutu Jackson.  

The Starlite Theater (later renamed Halecks West) where locals stoned after a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1973

Noticeably absent in many retellings of fa’afafine history were key figures of the movement: Rosie Moimoi and Michelle Eneliko. In those days, before other parts of the island were industrialized, Fagatogo and Pago Pago were the main hubs where locals and visitors were able to enjoy everything from shopping to dining and nightclubbing. Herb & Sia’s was one of the venues that fa’afafine frequented in the 70’s. In 1979, Rosie made a request to the owner, Tiumalu Sia Scanlan, that she host and organize a fa’afafine pageant for her birthday. Tiumalu loved the idea and petitioned the Governor at the time, Peter Coleman, for the governor himself to honor the event. Governor Coleman gave a written proclamation and sent several government dignitaries to attend. Sinira Lutu, who pioneered the first beauty pageant for women in American Samoa, was given the honor of crowning the winner. Thus, through Rosie’s efforts, she set in motion the first known event openly celebrating fa’afafine.  

Michelle Eneliko was a fiercely unapologetic fa’afafine and staunch educator with a presence that commanded respect. Michelle was the first transgender fa’afafine to live and work professionally as a woman in American Samoa. “I first met Michelle when I was in High School in 1971” said longtime nurse Loata Sipili, “she was bold and assertive with so much confidence when presenting herself in public. Her physical appearance was congruent with her emotional being, she set the stage for a fa’afafine like me who was hesitant and more reserved. Michelle did the same once she entered college and the workforce. Prior to the 70’s, fa’afafine only wore lipstick or makeup and dressed up for night clubs, but never during the daytime for fear of being labeled and mocked by society.” 

“I spent the entire afternoon with Michelle. I was interested in her views of a Fa’afafine in America VS. Fa’afafine in Samoa and how western education culture and religion has redefined the Fa’afafine. Michelle is a complicated person but one of her mission was a push for Fa’afafine to get a college education.”  -  Journalist Ken Aiono on Michelle Eneliko 
Shevon Matai, Loata Sipili and Michelle Petersen in the 1980’s

Perhaps the legacy of Rosie is largely forgotten because she was deemed uneducated and Michelle because of her outspokenness. It would seem that our cultural community chose to more openly embrace figures like Dr. Vena Sele and Leroy Lutu, as they both presented qualities that were deemed acceptable in conservative Samoan society. Thankfully to the changing times, our women in history like Rosie and Michelle are now celebrated as they deserve. Sadly, while Rosie and Michelle have both passed on, it is vitally important that we speak their names and honor the impact of the legacy they left behind.  

Leroy Lutu was the consummate professional and perfectionist known for his charm and elegant style. His affiliation with many organizations and people of prestige took fa’afafine organizations to levels of great success during their golden years. He became a father figure to the community and his home in Fagatogo was a place refuge for many fa’afafine throughout the years. Leroy in spite of his problematic flaws was a proud fa’afafine and was never ashamed of that fact, he was public about his identity and his lovers and was successful throughout his life and career.

While working on this timeline some of those who were found as history making firsts were excluded out of respect for their privacy. These are fa’afafine who never publicly acknowledged or embraced their identity, and it was agreed with those that I have interviewed that we could not possibly mention their names. I reached out to several who are still living, some consented to having their names published and others respectfully declined. The history of fa’atane (transmen, masculine presenting persons) and lesbians in Samoa is even more difficult to compile because a majority live almost entirely private lives. Dr. Vena Sele wrote in her autobiography, published in 2008, that she knew many fa’afafine from the 50’s and 60’s who skillfully crafted their public image to mask being fa’afafine; some chose to have wives and children and live a heterosexual life for fear of rejection and ridicule. When she completed her college education in 1969, she promised herself that she would not allow Samoan society to dictate her life and would live in her truth no matter the cost, and she did just that.  
I never realized until preparing this timeline that a majority of our trailblazers were overwhelmingly fa’afafine transgender women; I felt so empowered. “E matamua lava tatou i luma o le taua. We are at the forefront of the battle” said Tasha Atio’o, who has served over thirty-five years in various fa’afafine organizations and is currently an advisor for the Society of Fa’afafine In American Samoa (S.O.F.I.A.S). “We stand on the shoulders, blood, sweat and tears of fa’afafine transgender women because women like us have had to work ten times harder and fight for our place in society.”  

Society of Fa’afafine In American Samoa’s first outreach in 2011 (top photo) and participating in Flag Day Ceremony 2012

Fa’afafine life in American Samoa for the most part has been nearly unscathed with very little history of violence, hate crimes, and protests. There are currently no standing laws against fa’afafine, but forms of oppression have existed and continue to exist today. The case of fa’afafine transgender government worker Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga in 2016 became a controversial turning point of how the government failed to protect fa’afafine employees. After being verbally discriminated against during a meeting by the director of her department, she faced public criticism in the months following the incident. Despite a leaked recording, receiving considerable press coverage and taking her case to the US Department of Labor, the director faced no consequences.

Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga (left photo with her husband of over 30 years and two daughters)

The Governor at the time, Lolo Moliga, still appointed the director and the Fono approved his nomination. The comments made by some of the senators during his nomination hearing were some of the most disgusting public shaming of a fa’afafine individual. None of them displayed any concern towards Simeonica, going as far as victim-blaming and drawing their decisions from their personal opinions against her. It begs the question, ‘would their views and actions have been the same if the person was not fa’afafine?’. Simeonica’s case is significant because it exposed how Samoan society continues to demean and subjugate fa’afafine to a level of mediocrity.  
When Tiffany Potasi testified in front of a judiciary committee about a Same Sex Marriage Bill in 2003, she said “Fa’afafine don’t believe in marriages with other men, this is against our Christian upbringing.” Although, interviewing Tiffany today for this story, she said that she does not share the same views she did twenty years ago. “If I could go back in time with the knowledge I have today, I would ask them, ‘who the fuck are they to judge who someone marries?’” she said, “those were the beliefs I was taught growing up and I accepted them. Living as a fa’afafine in Samoa, you conform to societal standards without even realizing and fail to see the larger perspective.” Tiffany’s stance echoes many fa’afafine who have relocated to the mainland, adapting and fostering evolving views when compared to the ones they followed when they lived in Samoa. When UTOPIA Washington, an organization under the executive direction of Taffy Maene-Johnson from American Samoa that employs a majority of fa’afafine from American Samoa, held a discussion forum with S.O.F.I.A.S in 2019, the clash of conservative mindsets and progressive thinking was clear.  
Jayleen Chun, an instructor at the American Samoa Community College was the first fa’afafine to introduce a Fa’afafine Pride Week in American Samoa and established an inclusive LGBTQIA+ Fa’afafine social club called IMPACT. It did not come with ease and faced many challenges. “Making our people see things in a different light, instead of always using the standards of religion and culture to define the validity of ideas has been a constant challenge” she said, “one example is when I was Miss SOFIAS, I wanted to use the pride flag and rainbow in my publications and advertisement. I was shut down by the SOFIAS advisors with them saying that “we do not want to upset the public, the rainbow and pride flag means gay marriage, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. I feel that many fa’afafine do not want to take the lead with the LGBTQ realm because they are comfortable with their status and acceptance, we as fa’afafine should use our acceptance as a way to guide and lead into more acceptance.”  
I asked Tasha about her views on the internalized oppression of some fa’afafine, “it is a difficult subject in a conservative society like Samoa” she said, “but I have seen and learned the value of breaking away from stereotypes. For example, we met Representative Vui Saulo one day and we chatted and asked about her daughter Alayna. I am not sure if the others who were with me realized that they kept misgendering Alayna. The entire time, Vui answered them back referring to Alayna as she/her. That, to me, truly exemplified the kind of love and acceptance they have for their daughter to respect her even without her being present.”  

Fa’afafine have created some of the most extravagant and glamourous outfits for public shows and private citizens over the years. Here is Lydia Risati in a competition costume from the 1990’s.  

The word fa’afafine itself has no real cultural depth in meaning, it literally translates to ‘in the manner of woman’. It is only in recent times that many fa’afafine have come to embrace the term. Thirty years ago, it was thrown around to insult and mock us, and still today some do not identify with the term. As we are living in a constantly evolving era, I consulted Ara-Lei Yandall, Cultural Programs Director for UTOPIA Washington, to give me an understanding of how fa’afafine is defined in today’s generation.  
“Collectively the UTOPIA chapters came up with a definition that honors the cultural identity of fa’afafine or fa’atane” she said, “it’s a journey, and what we mean by that is that it is a journey an individual takes from feminine to masculine and vice-versa and the journey has no set destination, which only strengthens the argument that fa’afafine comes in many forms. We are living in a time where kids and young adults need specific details of everything in life, including the definition of who they are.” 

During the course of my interviews with fa’afafine of current times and survivors from an era long gone, Stacie Titiali’i gave a profound statement that I feel deeply epitomizes the journey and life of a fa’afafine; at least for me personally.  

I leave you with Satcie’s words: “As a fa’afafine, you always have to take a path that isn’t there and rely on one’s own intuition and faith to carry you through. The life of a fa’afafine is unique and complex, we almost never leave our footprints behind, which makes us all the more misunderstood, even by our own standards. Call it whatever you like, but for a fa’afafine, it is called survival.”

Timeline (and photos) of Fa’afafine Herstory Makers in American Samoa

1962 -  Nu’u Savali & Misikopa Petaia, first Fa’afafine nurses, both were locally trained and earned their LPN (License Practice Nurse) 
1970 - Vena Vanessa Sele, first Fa’afafine with a college education to become a recognized educator. She began her teaching career at Samoana High School in American Samoa before becoming an instructor at the local college in 1973 where she worked for over thirty years.   
1970’s – Setetrina Gasologa, first Fa’afafine to operate a business in American Samoa. Seterina was a popular seamstress from the 1970’s to the 80’s. She opened her first sewing shop in Pago Pago and a second one in Fagaitua village.  
1973 – Roy Tavake becomes the first Fa’afafine Professional Beautician. He earned his license from the Board of Cosmetology in San Francisco. In 1980, he opened Roy’s Hairport in Pago Pago, it was the go-to salon for many locals through the years.  

Roy Tavake (center) with some of his hairdressing colleagues in the 1970’s. Roy was the first fa’afafine to earn a cosmetology license. 

1979 – First Fa’afafine beauty pageant is held in Fagatogo at Herb & Sia’s Motel. Nancy Olo is declared the winner.  
1980 – the first Fa’afafine organization is formed undergoing a series of name changes becoming officially known as American Samoa Island Queens Association in 1991. 

Opening production of the 1988 Miss Island Queen Pageant

1984 – Rexene Yandall, first Fa’afafine Artist & Sculptor.  Rexene’s work has been featured at many local events, exhibitions and at the local museum where she was employed for over thirty years. She was known for making ‘elei and tapa art and coordinated the Cultural Maintenance Summer Program, one of American Samoa’s longest running summer programs. 

Fa’afafine Firsts: Rexene Yandall, Loata Sipili, Dr. Saipale Fuimaono, Mikaele Etuale, Stacie Titiali’i and Eden Brown.

1985 – Fa’afoa “Foxy” Tagoa’i representing the village of Tula, where his father was a minister, becomes the first Fa’afafine to Taualuga (ceremonial dance) a performance at the historic Flag Day Ceremony.  
1985 – Stacie Titiali’i is crowned Homecoming Queen at Fagaitua High School, becoming the first Fa’afafine to win in a competitive pageant with cisgender women.  
1987 – A.P. Lutali becomes the first Governor of American Samoa to attend and address an audience at a fa’afafine event (Miss Island Queen Pageant).  
1987 – The Island Queens Association presented its first charity donation to Fatuoaiga Convalescent Home, beginning a tradition that continues today.  
1991 – Loata Sipili is the first Fa’afafine RN (Registered Nurse) in American Samoa.  
1990’s – Dr. Saipele Fuimaono MD, is the first Fa’afafine Doctor to practice medicine in American Samoa.  
1990’s – Fili Sapolutele is the first Fa’afafine Journalist and media personality. She is the only local National Correspondent from American Samoa and is also the first Fa’afafine radio host. 

 ”When I first began working for Samoa News in 2000, she was a prolific writer, kept to herself but was also a big meany. Newsroom fights back then were not only about getting the news breaks over the other media outlets, but also against your coworker (she got the news breaks all the time!) As a rookie reporter I always wanted to pull her hair or push her down the stairs. We are now sisters. We see and annoy each other daily and I have pulled her hair a few times. She would say she would rather get the money than the accolades.” – Journalist La Poasa on Fili Sapolutele 

1994 – the reigning Miss Island Queen, Shalimar Seiuli, with several members of the Island Queens Association took part in the float parade of the Flag Day Ceremony. It marked the first time a fa’afafine organization was part of the historic event.

1994 – Paulo Salave’a becomes the First Fa’afafine School Principal. He was Leone High School’s longest serving principle.

1996 - Turmoil within the Island Queens Association led to a divide and the formation of a rival group. Losing its star power, this created a loophole for the outside community to exploit fa’afafine for the next 14 years. 

Opening production to the 1996 Miss Island Queen Pageant

Tickets to the 15th Annual Miss Island Queen Pageant

1996 – Dan Taulapapa Mcmullin is the first Fa’afafine Writer and Poet, he taught writing and art across American Samoa and Manu’a and formed a writers group titled “Poula Poets Society” in the mid-90s with Sia Figiel and Caroline Sinavaiana where they did readings at the local museum.  
1997 – Fa’afafine became part of a major Pacific Islander event for the first time when American Samoa hosted the Pacific Mini Games. The Island Queens Association was invited by the local government to present the Aiavā (presentation of cultural gifts) to invited dignitaries.  

Roberta, Tasha Atio’o and Erica Thompson takes part in the closing ceremony of the 1997 Pacific Mini Games. Marking the first time the fa’afafine community was invited to become a part of major Pacific-Wide event.

1997 – Dr. Vena Sele becomes the first Fa’afafine to earn a Doctorate degree, later she would become Deputy Director of ASCC, becoming the first Fa’afafine in a Deputy Position.  

1998 – American Sevens Association is formed, the first inclusive Fa’afafine Sports Organization. They hosted popular yearly pageants that eclipsed other local fa’afafine pageants in comparison.  
2003 – While the American Samoa Community College was awaiting the selection process for a new Dean, Dr. Vena Sele was appointed Dean for three months, becoming the highest ranking Fa’afafine in American Samoa.  
2003 – Representative Su’a Carl Schuster introduced a bill to ban Same-sex Marriage in the territory.  He said” the legal battles in other states where same sex marriages are allowed should be prevented in the territory.” The bill was rejected by the Senate after the judiciary committee recommended that the bill should be killed.  
2004 – An outdoor party in the village of Nua & Se’etaga led to the beating death of fa’afafine by 4 male individuals, the victim walked home before collapsing. His body was discovered the following day. It was not considered a hate crime at the time. With the passing of time and without any public information the circumstances remain unknown. It was the first known murder of a fa’afafine. 

2006 - The mother of Suzie Faasulu, a fa’afafine student at Manu’a High published a letter in the local newspaper detailing the school’s principal’s discriminatory practice of not allowing her daughter to wear a puletasi (female attire) during a school event. It led to the removal of the school principal from her position. It was the first public discrimination case involving a fa’afafine.  
2008 – Dr. Vena Sele becomes the first Fa’afafine to publish an autobiography. Her book titled “Memoirs of a Samoan Catholic and Fa’afafine” had its book launch and signing during the Pacific Arts Festival hosted in American Samoa.  
2010 – American Samoa Island Queens and American Sevens united to become one organization retooling its name to Society of Fa’afafine In American Samoa (S.O.F.I.A.S). The union upheld standards of community service and fa’afafine empowerment and denounced any person(s) or organization from exploiting fa’afafine.

 ”I was raised to love, to respect, and to show kindness. There is a Samoan saying that serves as my constant reminder: O a’u nei, a o oe taeao. Rejection also played a pivotal role in my journey as a fa’afafine. It became my motivation to be better, to know better, and to be the best version of myself. I am a proud fa’afafine, and I say that with every fiber of confidence within me because I know I’m loved, I’m appreciated, and my existence matters.” – Shanee Soifualepa Masoli, Constituent Services Coordinator at the Lt. Governor’s Office and President of Society of Fa’afafine in American Samoa (SOFIAS).

2011 – Nina Namazzi becomes the first Fa’afafine recording music artist. Her song ‘Siva Mai’ became a hit along other Pacific Islands.  

2011 – Jaiyah Saelua becomes the first Fa’afafine Public Sports Figure when she played in a FIFA World 
2013 – The Department of Youth and Women held a controversial public forum to discuss fa’afafine and same sex marriage. The panel was controlled by local church leaders and held considerably negative opposition towards the fa’afafine community. S.O.F.I.A.S agreed not to attend and condemned the event. The department drew heavy criticism following similar forums and the director was not reinstated.  
2014 – Sally Faumuina was hired as a Secretary to Lt. Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga, becoming the first Fa’afafine to work in the Lt. Governor’s office. When Lemanu won his bid for Governor in 2020, Sally became the first Fa’afafine to accomplish both feats.  
2014 – Jaiyah Saelua was featured in the documentary “Next Goal Wins”. She would spend the next three years traveling around the world to promote the film becoming American Samoa’s first Fa’afafine Celebrity. An upcoming Hollywood movie based on the documentary is currently in production.  
2015 – Same Sex Marriage became law of the land in Untied States. Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga opposed the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage. He stated, “My personal opinion is, this ruling will not apply to our constitution and our Christian values. Also, our political status is still unorganized and unincorporated, so the Supreme Court ruling does not apply to our territory.” His stance was backed by the Assemblies of God, the Catholic Church, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Senator Tuaolo Manaia Fruean. I sought the legal advice of a local attorney and according to the law the only requirements for marriage are that the persons be a certain age, that they not be related more than fourth degree consanguinity, not have a lawful living spouse, and that the marriage ceremony be performed by a duly authorized individual. The age requirement state that the male must be 18 and female must be 18, but there is no other language that states that marriage must be between a man and a woman.  The attorney said the only way, in his opinion, to determine whether the Obergfell decision applies to American Samoa is if two men/women applied for a marriage license at the Office of Vital Stats and if they were denied, then it would be taken to court to determine the applicability of Obergfell to marriages in American Samoa.  
2016 – Jaiyah Saelua graces the cover of FIFA 1904 Magazine becoming the first Fa’afafine on an international magazine cover.  

2016 – Christmas Tree ornaments created by members of S.O.F.I.A.S. were presented at the President’s Park representing American Samoa at the White House in Washington D C. 

2016 – Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga vs. American Samoa Government  

2016 – The first Fa’afafine Pride Festival is held over the course of two days. The event included a celebration of Fa’afafine through a parade, songs, dancing, fashion show and outreach hosted by S.O.F.I.A.S. 
2018 – Princess Auva’a becomes the first known Fa’afafine open transgender woman in the military.

Fa’afafine Firsts, Princess Arianna Auva’a and Jaiyah Saelua

2018 – Eden Brown wins “Le Leo”, a local televised reality singing contest similar to “The Voice” becoming the First Fa’afafine to win a reality show.  
2018 – Agalelei Fatuesi becomes the first Fa’afafine to campaign for public office when she ran for an unsuccessful seat in the House of Representative.  
2019 – Roberta Laumoli becomes the first Fa’afafine designer from American Samoa to feature her designs on an international runway in London.

Jaiyah Saelua and Vanessa Simanu Ta’amu models costumes designed by Berta Laumoli at Fashion Week in London, 2019

2021 – Mikaele Etuale is appointed Director of the office of Procurement, becoming the first Fa’afafine to hold the director position of any Government Agency.  
2021 – Levi Reese becomes the first Fa’afafine Deputy Treasurer of American Samoa and the first fa’afafine to hold the reins of Acting Treasurer.  
2021 – Nancy Fa’aloga becomes the first Fa’afafine Prom Queen when Samoana High School voted her as their winner.  
2021 – Christian Wright-Saalea, a transgender fa’afafine educator was told to use the men’s bathroom at the Laufou Shopping Center, leading to backlash from the fa’afafine community and an online petition to boycott Forsgrens, the owners. The owners have a long history of discrimination against fa’afafine. 

An ad boycotting the Forsgrens store in Nuuuli for their discriminatory practices, 2021

2021 – Cherylmoanamarie “Cherie” Ripley celebrated 50 years of service to the American Samoa Community College becoming the longest serving working Fa’afafine. ASCC was only a year old when Cherie was hired as a secretary for the college fresh out of high school. She has worked with every dean, countless faculty members and seen thousands of students graduate with college degrees through the years. In an interview, she said “The rewards have not been in money or titles, but just in knowing that you had a part in helping students better their lives. That in itself is motivation to continue.”

One of the earliest photos of a working Fa’afafine I found is this 1967 photo of Papali’itele Tuni who was a storekeeper for Olotoa store in Fagatogo for many years. R- Cherylmoanamarie Ripley the longest serving Fa’afafine at the American Samoa Community College in American Samoa; she celebrated 50 years of service in 2021. 

My sincerest gratitude to Loata Sipili, Naeaulumanu’a Tasha LeAtio’o, Miki “Mitzie Gaynor” Kupu, Nancy Olo, Janice Faleafine, Magalita Tifi Leiato, Stacie Titiali’i, Jayleen Chun, Angel Ae, Tiffany Potasi and those who wish to remain anonymous for helping me piece together this timeline. 

4 thoughts on “60 Years of Fa’afafine History: A Timeline of Herstory Makers & Events surrounding Them in American Samoa

  1. Im so proud of the Samoan LGBTQ community and its courage in remaining true to its values as its own individual persons amidst judgment from religious leaders, elders and many who chose to use prejudice to dismiss them as too different to be respected as valid members of society to be accepted and respected in their own right to be who they are.

  2. Just wanted to express my sincere Fa’afetai tele to Marion and all who helped put together this great memories of 60 years of Fa’afafine History and services to the American Samoa Community. Fa’afetai Utopia for your support. God bless!

  3. Thank you Marion , my heart is full. Grateful for individuals like you and the rest of the Fa’afafines who stood for all you believe in. Your stories has made history and will continue to make history in our communities. Leroy Lutu was my brother. Leilani, Rosie, Kifi, Vena, Roy Tavake , Michelle were all in my life . Michelle was always introduced as my mommy, lol. Alofa atu with many blessings. Xoxo

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